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Holidays and cancer

Publication: The Paris News

The holidays are a time when friends and family gather to make new memories. For cancer patients, the season can be challenging. Texas Oncology’s community-based care helps patients stay home during the holidays when support from family and friends is particularly crucial. Here are some tips to help your family celebrate the holidays while coping with cancer.

Be present

There’s no better gift than quality time. Rather than dwelling on a loved one’s cancer diagnosis, enjoy the moments of togetherness the holidays bring. Easy activities include board and card games, holiday movie marathons or sharing family stories.

Adjust expectations

Cancer patients may not be up to a hectic schedule during the holidays. Seek a flexible routine that includes down time. Offer to hold the family’s holiday gathering, propose a potluck meal or ordering take-out food, or suggest alternate sleeping arrangements for out-of-town family and friends to avoid the stress of keeping overnight guests.

Know what to say (and not say)

Avoid commenting on appearance, changes in mood or energy level. Rather, ask questions about well-being and offer support. Your loved one may want to share a lot about their cancer journey or may not wish to discuss it at all. Give them the freedom to do either.

Say this…

  • “How are you feeling?”
  • “I’ve been thinking about you.”
  • “What can I do to help make you feel more comfortable?”

Not this…

  • “You’ve lost so much weight!”
  • “I read about this new treatment on the Internet…”
  • “My friend had the same type of cancer, and he/she is in remission now.”

Give a thoughtful gift

When shopping for someone affected by cancer, look for items that are comforting or distracting like crossword or Sudoku puzzles, restaurant gift cards, cozy blankets, massage or spa treatments, funny movies and personal notes of encouragement. Avoid giving anything containing synthetic perfumes that might trigger nausea; plants which can harbor fungal spores and raise the risk of infection; or sweets because many patients have dietary restrictions.

Beware of germs

‘Tis the season for the flu. With more cold and flu cases, increased travel and more visitors than usual, this time of year can be difficult for someone with a weakened immune system. Encourage thorough and frequent hand washing among family members and guests.

Consider meals carefully

Cancer treatment frequently changes food tastes. Ask if there are specific food aversions or needs to consider when preparing a meal. As a general rule, stick to holiday meal staples like turkey, potatoes, and green beans. If the holiday meals are traditionally prepared by your loved one with cancer, suggest an alternative or divvy up responsibilities.

By making adjustments to holiday traditions, family members and friends can help those affected by cancer enjoy and cherish their time with loved ones. For more information about navigating the holidays when a loved one has cancer, visit TexasOncology.com/GatherTogether.

Celeste Wilcox, M.D., is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Paris.

Read the full story from The Paris News.

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